Friday, October 10, 2008

Stories from a backward country, from a shameful time

Domestic Workers Organize to End an ‘Atmosphere of Violence’ on the Job
Published: June 9, 2008

The women’s stories seemed to come from a backward country, or from a shameful time in the United States that many would sooner forget.

Sharing stories from the workplace: Violet Anthony, top, was slammed against a wall and subjected to beatings after she arrived from India; Georgia Danan, middle, was paid just $70 for working a 24-hour shift; and Araceli Herrera, bottom, says employers searched her bags before they would allow her to leave for the day.

One woman, too scared to give her name, told of being struck by her employer in Bethesda, Md., as she scrubbed her hands raw polishing the floor. Another woman, Violet Anthony, who is 29 and from Mumbai, said her face became marbled with bruises after her employer in Queens slammed her into a wall and slapped her. Araceli Herrera said some of her employers inspected her bags before she left their homes and refused to drive her to or from the bus stop, a half-hour’s walk away. One employer, she said, fired her after she had a gallbladder operation and needed a month’s rest.

“With each job, I was exploited more. The thing is, the more you suffer, the harder it is to defend yourself,” said Ms. Herrera, 48, who trained to be an optometrist in her native Mexico and now works as a housekeeper in San Antonio. “We come from an atmosphere of violence, of blows, and we think we have to tolerate that.”

All three women were in Manhattan over the weekend for the first National Domestic Workers Congress, four days of workshops, meetings and a rally to demand rights for a work force that organizers describe as splintered, almost invisible, and staggeringly difficult to organize.

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